Video: Slow Day (2007)

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Slow Day (2007) from Josh Knowles on Vimeo

Here’s another video. It was shot using an Apple iSight camera trained out the window of my bedroom in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. You can see a few famous buildings out there in the haze. I caught one frame each fifteen or thirty seconds (I forget which) and then composited those into this video!

The audio track is an old one of mine from around 2003. The video says it’s called “Game Over.” It’s not. The name escapes my mind at the moment, but I rendered the video with a different audio track that didn’t really fit. So I switched music later.

Anyway, I put this video together for the ITP end-of-semester video screening in May.


Video: Winterforms (2006)

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Winterforms (2006) from Josh Knowles on Vimeo

I have a collection of videos I’ve made for various reasons over the years which have been languishing on my laptop’s hard drive for too long. So. They’re going online. I’ve never used a video sharing site to host my own videos. I don’t use image sharing sites (like Flickr) to host my images because, well, they’re my images. And I can put them online just fine, thank you. It’s not complicated to share a .jpg. Video, though, is a bit different. It’s not as trivial a process to share a video as you would an image. Too many codecs to worry about and, I, at least, have to fight the desire to encode everything into gigantic files no one would ever download. Blah.

I poked around a few video sharing sites. YouTube is horrible — the MySpace of these sorts of sites. Ugly. Crap community. Vimeo I kind of liked, though. It’s simple. Not too many frills. But it appears to work with the least amount of hassle. And that’s what I want: The least amount of hassle. And a bit of good interface design. My criteria. (They also support full HD, to note.) So I’ve posted a few videos there, and I’ll embed some here on occasion, as well.

So, this video. This is my final project for two classes at NYU’s ITP, Dan Shiffman’s Nature of Code and Luke DuBois’ Algorithmic Composition. Fall 2006. They both dealt with the same sorts of concepts centering on the algorithmic creation of art. Nature of Code tended to be more visual-conceptual. Algorithmic Comp was about music. Both great classes, by the way.

The visuals are forms created using math that models the natural development of plants. Phyllotaxis. L-systems. And such. (Much good info came from Algorithmic Botany.) The audio is based on temperature data during the winter of 2005. You’ll hear it slowly cascade downward and get darker in the middle and then brighten at the end as the temperatures rose and fell.

So that’s it. Enjoy!


Testing Short Posts

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Maker Faire Austin

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Yup yup yup. I got back from Austin a few days ago. Monday. After an obnoxiously bumpy pair of flights between Austin, Chicago, and here. So I’m finally back in New York. And after a month of solid traveling I get a nice five week break here before jetting out to Seattle. I’m sick of flying. Sick of flying. I watch too many movies like Alive and United 93. I spend too much time reading Wikipedia articles about famous crashes. Commercial air disasters fascinate me. And the more I feed that fascination, the more I feed my phobia so I can’t do anything while airborne except listen closely for that creak or pop or lurch that will cause the wing to tear off and result in the disintegration of Northwest flight 895 into small crater somewhere in eastern Ohio…

So I went to Maker Faire. The event took place over the weekend of October 20-21st out at the Travis County Expo Center, back a half mile or so east of where I went to high school in east Austin (LBJ High: go jags).


Above, the main indoor portion of the Faire. Here lived the more hacker-techie sorts of projects. Normally this area’s a bit more sawdust-and-horseshit: They do the rodeo here. Yee-haw.

Kate, Gabe, and Rob (not pictured) showed off a handful of ITP projects and pitched the program a bit. Good call, although I kind of feel like Austin’s digital arts scene has kind of fallen apart over the past couple of years. Maybe I’m just out of the loop.

Life-size game of Mouse Trap. I remember playing with that game a lot as a kid. (I’m an only child so a game with lots of fun parts entertained me much more than a game like Monopoly which necessarily required other people to play.) Mason came with the people who put this on — SF-area Burners. Very Burning Man. The night previous we all went out to check out a Haunted Trail in south Austin. Which was fun. Lots of pale zombie chicks wandering around and people with axes jumping out from behind trees. Boo.

Another construction of theirs, part of a series of bike-powered amusement park rides. (Which also included the rolling ferris wheel vehicle in the top picture. More about that in a moment.)

Mike on a bike. They had several “funny bikes” around. Including a few double-deckers like this. And some other various wobbly bikes. One with a hinge right in the middle I found essentially impossible to ride.

Mason on a subwoofer sofa.

Guys playing music with fire. Where, like, the sounds of the fire were the musical sounds. Perfect outside on a hot day like this! But nifty. I only caught the last few minutes — I would’ve liked to have seen more.

More bikes. These were decorated as large praying mantises and scorpions and such.

This guy etched art into dirty car windows.

Battery-powered hotrods. Nice.

Some drummer guy on the Cyclecide stage. Apparently the whole stage ran on solar. I didn’t get to see anyone actually perform on it, though. This guy was just messing around and I liked the shot.

The wheel, again. Yeah, so Mason’s sister’s boyfriend (maybe husband?) makes these things and then has a crew that helps him haul them around the country for fun (although I think they’re primarily Burning Man sorts of constructions). I rode in this with Mike and some other dude for about a hundred yards. Slightly down an incline. It doesn’t move very fast at all, and it’s really not that high. But for some reason it freaked me out. Maybe the creaking metal sounds as it lurched along. My legs also felt slightly too long, like I might slip and get hit by the chair in front of me or something. Or I just have no balls. Whatever the case, I enjoyed it, but wasn’t ready to buy one for the morning commute. We attracted quite a crowd, though. The thing grabs attention. Very fun. And very clever design.

I went home and dawdled about for a bit afterwards and then the lot of us — Mason, Mike, the ITPers, and some others went out for drinks. Tried to crash the Good magazine party in the Hotel San Jose parking lot, but got there a few minutes too late (though I did catch the end of a good blues set. So we went up to Mohawk (ugh — bad, loud indie rock whatever) and then finally landed at Club de Ville. Which has kind of expanded weirdly into their own parking lot. There we mingled with various folks, including Mr. Make Vlogger Bre Pettis. I meet him every few months but he never remembers me. I’m so unmemorable. I need a popular vlog.

So that’s about that! Perfect warm weather. A nice final send-off to the summer — now I’m back in a cold, soggy New York. Mm.


Amsterdam / Picnic ‘07 Conference

Monday, October 1, 2007

It’s night. Not late. About 10pm local time. I’m back at the apartment by myself. Christin left this morning. I’m leaving Amsterdam tomorrow morning.

It’s been good. Kind of exhausting. Yesterday was really the first day I’ve had in a while to just goof off. And the only sunny day we’ve had out here. Christin and I spent a lazy early morning and early afternoon around the apartment (watching lots of BBC World — the English channels we get are BBC World and MTV, uh, Europe (I guess), which is sort of like having a cupboard full of nothing but raw potatoes and blow). Anyway, we lingered about and then took a slow, meandering walk down to Centraal Station to rent a bike for me. She had rented once pretty much the entire week, but since I had been at Picnic most of the time, I hadn’t really needed one. Turned out quite nice. We got the bike around 5pm and cruised west out from Centraal Station down to Westerpark and Westergasfabriek (where Picnic had been held) and then just straight west along Haarlemerweg, a big highway that connects Amsterdam to, well, Haarlem. We didn’t get to Haarlem, but we did get far. About halfway to the North Sea, I estimate. It’s all very flat, so it’s quite easy to go long distances, even on a zero-gear bike like mine. We biked out about an hour. Got to see one of those tall, modern generator windmills up close — I thought that was cool. Otherwise that area is kind of a mix of scrubby natural areas with the occasional patches of trees and large, new industrial complexes scattered about. Plenty more spindly white windmills and the occasional smoke stack. And a constant rumble of aircraft flying, I guess, in and out of Schiphol. An historical marker we passed showed a map of the area from back several hundred years ago. Back then we would’ve been biking right along the coastline, more or less. (See here.) Today it’s landlocked. All below sea level, as well, I imagine.

After the bike ride we stopped in a small bar in the Jordaan district to refresh with coffee and some food and then caught our reservation for a canal cruise at 9pm. Pretty nice. They give us all the wine we could drink and we spend a couple of hours zipping around the various navigable canals in a dimly-lit boat with a bunch of people while our tour guide, a Polish guy who has lived in the Netherlands for nine years and appears to speak very fluent Dutch, English, German, French, and (I suppose) Polish. Whoa. He pointed out the usual sights and, I mean, you know how tourist guide things go — he had plenty of little tales about this or that location and answered questions about Amsterdam. I’ve been here a few times, so I kind of get the gist of it, but I did have a new experience in that we spent a good amount of time cruising out behind Centraal Station, in the wide waterway (IJhaven) that separates main Amsterdam from North (“Noord”) Amsterdam. My perception of Amsterdam (and most tourists’, I’m sure) is that there’s a kind of north wall on the city at Centraal. You can see stuff back there, but it’s kind of industrial and new and functional in a sort of non-interesting way. Like Amsterdam’s kitchen, or something. Or Amsterdam’s Jersey (as I described it to Christin). But there’s some neat stuff up there. For one, North Amsterdam seems like a relaxed little suburb of Amsterdam. Anyway, it’s not really crazy awesome compared to other parts of the city, but interesting, nevertheless. Moving on. Other sights: The houseboats! The canals are lined with houseboats when you’re out of the downtown areas. Apparently they first appeared during the post-World War II housing crisis (Amsterdam was mostly left alone but Rotterdam and other places in the Netherlands were bombed flat). Now they’re apparently quite luxury and, apart from having wine-sloshed tourists zipping past your windows all night, quite cozy. (The Dutch: not into pulling the curtains on their windows.) They looked mostly larger than the apartments and very nicely decorated on the insides — no different, really, than any normal apartment. Very nice. Expensive (though I bet my sense of “expensive” is all screwy thanks to living in New York — I bet I could get one for less than what I currently pay in Williamsburg). Yeah, so our tour lasted maybe two hours or so. Very nice. If you get to Amsterdam, I recommend it (especially as a nice intro to the city because you’ll see pretty much all of the landmarks outside of the Rijksmuseum and Museumplain area).

Another tourist trick: avoid the Stedelijk Museum at its temporary location out on the IJhaven near Centraal. Oh, gracious. Christin and I went down there on Wednesday. One: It’s a mess getting down there. The whole area is in the process of being built and is currently, thanks to all of the rain, a dumpy concrete mud-puddle. That takes a long hike to get to. And then none of the permanent exhibit stuff is up. Mondrian? Ha! Picasso? Whatever. Here, watch this mid-tier video art from eight years ago, instead. It’s edgy. Blah. They had one exhibit called “Frustrated Bonsai” (or something like that) which featured these colorful sort of melted-plastic crazy tree-like formations. That was okay. But everything else felt like warmed-over new media fine art crap which I feel fully justified in crabbing about because the stuff at your average ITP Spring/Fall Show could beat the shit out of it with one perf board tied behind its Zigbee.

So, okay. Today, then, I had the day to myself. I didn’t move too quickly. Did a few small work things at the apartment and then went out and biked around town for a while. Biked around Vondelpark. Biked down to Centraal to return the bike. Walked back to the apartment to check some stuff. And then I just went out to get some dinner. Found a very good Nepalese/Tibetan place called “Sherpa” right in the main nightlife district, whateveritscalled. The meals seemed surprisingly Italian — I had what basically amounted to angel hair spaghetti with tomato sauce, a few extra veggies (green beans, squash bits), and dough-covered meatballs. Very, very good. Recommended. I just quietly ate by myself (reading Harry Potter — I’m doing a straight read-through, all seven at once, and I’m on book five — but the post about that will come later). And now I’m back here.

So that’s my past couple of days.

Picnic ‘07.

Why am I in Amsterdam? Well, I’ve been steeped in game design lately. Designing unconventional big games and social games — not “video” games, exactly. So I submitted a variation of my thesis project to Come Out and Play, the big games conference, which happened to be in Amsterdam this year (New York last year) as a part of Amsterdam’s new annual Picnic digital media festival. And it got accepted: So I came to show my big phone-to-screen games which use the software I have now christened PhonePlay#. You call in and your phone turns into a game controller. Sweet. So I made a couple of games for Come out and Play. Okay.

The Come Out and Play event itself was really fun. I, unfortunately, didn’t get to do quite as much as I wanted due to technical issues with my game, but I played a round of Bocce Drift, a couple games of OMMRPG, and Safari. And watched some people play other games. A good selection. Go look at the website — I’m not going to describe them all here, except to say that Safari had us all running around at dusk in Westerpark with face make-up trying to tag one another and occasionally freaking out the locals who were just out for a jog or stroll with a baby carriage. I got all sweaty and make-up ink went everywhere. And OMMRPG was probably my favorite game of the conference. It was almost like laser-hockey: Two teams. Each with one person with a high-powered laser at the ends of the fields. The goal: run around with mirrors and try to get your laser light to reach a small goal on the other side — while making sure to block your opponent’s light. Really fun. Kind of futuristic, with the lasers, but also satisfyingly low-tech.

And if I had to peg one thing that I really appreciated at Come Out and Play is was the low-tech-ness. It’s the same reason I really enjoyed Frank Lantz’ Game Design class back my first semester at ITP. The kind of software design I do is all about interaction design — creating interesting, compelling, and fun new ways for people to do things using technology as the intermediary. But that so often gets bogged down in the technology (as my game did for this conference) that it can become difficult to explore the human interaction part of the equation. Which is way it’s nice to concentrate on designing fun games that involve just running around in the park or bopping people with balls: You get to sketch and explore how people enjoy interacting with each other and with things. Also. It’s nice to fantasize about what cultural impact these games might have and when games involve simple tools like balls and laser pointers, it’s easier to see how these interesting game designs could be absorbed by kids or whomever and really affect culture. Hide-and-seek. Tag. Red-light-green-light. These were all “invented” somehow and seeped out into mainstream culture and people love them. Maybe the same could eventually happen with some of these.

So my project took the exact opposite route. I’m interested in telephony and connecting voice telephony with the larger connected world of the internet and mobile devices to see what’s possible. Great. So I’m exploring different ways to get on to and off of the handset. So I designed some simple games — clones of familiar 80s computer games, essentially — that use this system I built for turning a phone into a game controller with a normal voice call. Just to see what’s possible with the tech, but also to explore what happens when people use a familiar device such as their own phone and can participate in a public game with it. Works great in the States. But I had a very difficult time getting the telephony stuff in the Netherlands sorted out. I won’t get into it, but it proved difficult to get the number of simultaneous calls connected for the games to be successful, and I found it very difficult to actually keep people on the line — their calls kept dropping. Argh. So I worked at it for quite a long period of time and made some very good progress and even would up making my codebase quite a bit more robust, but I just couldn’t get the stability issue solved and had to yank my game. We got about a total of maybe 15 minutes of gameplay in, so anyone interested got to see kind of what the whole thing was about (and I did get several very excited people hovering about, disappointed that I couldn’t get it up for a longer period of time). Blah. Oh, well. That failure sucked, but it actually felt like a relatively minor glitch.

On the whole, Come Out and Play was amazing. I believe there are plans to bring it back to New York in the Spring. And next year? Don’t know. Amsterdam’s nice but it would be nice, as well, if it would drift from city to city a bit.

So there’s more to say about the Amsterdam trip and Picnic. I’m not going to be able to get to it tonight — hopefully I’ll wrap up on the plane or when I’m back in Brooklyn.

I brought my camera but not — ugh — my battery charger. So no photos from me (though I did take some on Christin and Dennis Crowley’s cameras). You know what Amsterdam looks like. You can use Flickr to find photos tagged picnic07 and comeoutandplay or whatever you would like…


Thoughts on Mobile Social Gaming

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Immobile social gaming at Coney Island

Many of you know I’m working on a mobile social networking game called “Casablanca.” We got a grant from mtvU and Cisco System to develop it over the summer — now we’re live and we’ve run a few successful games. Excellent. It’s been an interesting process and I’ll write up more details about it soon. Today, though, I thought I would take a quick look at the sorry state of popular gaming on mobile phones and point out a few tools for developing indie mobile social games which I have found cool and useful.

So mainstream mobile gaming sucks. It has its moments, but I’ve found it pretty dissatisfying so far. Take a look at Gamespot’s “most popular mobile games” page, for example. Boring. Ugh. Please. They’re all just micro versions of popular console games (“Need for Speed,” “Final Fantasy”) or rehashes of the same old classic computer games that get immediately ported onto any platform that’ll hold them: Snakes, Breakout, etc. Even the handful of porn games don’t save this lot from being just flat boring.

Trip Hawkins III, found of EA and Digital Chocolate observes: “Companies are treating the cell phone like it was a second-rate game console and I don’t think that’s really doing it justice. … A brand like “Madden” … is about immersion in a very high-performance technology to make you feel like you’re on the football field. That doesn’t work on a tiny cell phone screen. And ‘Tetris’ was a great game 20 years ago but it certainly can’t define the future of the mobile phone. It doesn’t make sense to me that that’s as good as mobile games are going to get.”

And yet almost all mobile phone games right now seem to fall into these exact traps.

Let me reiterate Trip’s points in my own way:

  1. Mobile phones are not Playstations. They generally have crappy screens, crappier sound, and the crappiest gaming controls. Phone designers often botch up the most basic sorts of user interface elements, making placing calls or sending text messages excessively cumbersome and non-intuitive. (We’ve all had the experience of borrowing someone’s phone and having to ask them how to make it place a call, right?) Game controls require even more high-usability, high-comfort controls. It’s like asking someone who just knows how to put together a bike to build a high-performance racing engine. (Sorry to all of your mobile phone designers for the diss, but seriously: Interaction design on most phones I’ve used is a disaster.)

  2. Many game developers seem to have forgotten that a mobile phone is a communications device (or maybe they never realized it in the first place with all of this emphasis on iPods and pocket computing: “Don’t call it a phone.”). And not just for communicating with V Cast to download “premium content.” A mobile phone is for communicating with people. Between people. Such communications and social connectivity should be the baseline of successful mobile game development, it would seem. People love to have excuses to communicate with one another. It would seem that more of these game companies would latch on to this urge. But apparently not yet (with a few exceptions).

We live in a miraculous world, though — one in which even individual developers and hacker-tinkerer sorts can create great games and software pieces that can become quite popular. It’s obviously happened (and is happening) left and right on the web, but the tools also exist for indie developers to go crazy in the mobile social game arena. I’m going to skip over some of the obvious ones (Java Mobile, BREW, Python, etc) and point you towards a few platforms for mobile social game development which I think are under-exploited and have some great features to offer. And which are free (mostly). I’ve used all of these for different projects and appreciated what each has to offer.

Here goes:

  1. SMS text messaging. Boring. No graphics. Slow turn-around. True. But. Almost all phones are SMS-capable and you can very easily write SMS-to-web interfaces. Getting a short code can be expensive, but most new phones will send straight to e-mail addresses, so if you read up on using .procmail scripts to grab incoming e-mails and throw them into your PHP- or Perl-based web app, you’re golden. It’s not hard. Trendy social tools such as Twitter and Dodgeball totally take advantage of the power of the simple text message. So does Casablanca, the game I’m working on. We use text messaging so players can do simple communications and get updates with their phones. And then we have a more elegant gameplay website for when they’re at their computers. This works quite well for us. And it allows our game to be persistent over time, allowing our game to be more casual: When something occurs, the player’s phone beeps with a new text message. They can respond whenever they would like. And they don’t have to have a Java app open all of the time. Text messaging ain’t glamorous, but it can be exactly what you need to make a good game that works across a wide range of phones.

  2. MUPE (“Multi-User Publishing Environment”). This is Nokia’s offering to the mobile developer that wants a quick and easy way to launch multi-player games. It requires a bit more set-up time (including a MUPE server) and definitely requires some Java chops, but once you’ve got it going it’s very quick to develop with. It’s like doing web 2.0 social site development, but all user activity on the phone latches directly into the Java server and you can easily access stuff like the phone camera and microphone. Sweet. Once you’re flying, it’s great for rapid development or prototyping. What it lacks, though, is any kind of broad support on phones. In fact, at the present I don’t believe it’s available on any non-Nokia phones — though I know Nokia would like for it to become more of a standard. MUPE’s open source, so if that’s your bag you can feel comfortable with it. I’ve enjoyed working with it. Let me reiterate again, though, that only new-ish Nokia phones support MUPE. Which sucks for now.

  3. Voice phone calls! Calling someone voice is really the only communication mode supported 100% by all phones (mobile or otherwise) since Alexander Graham Bell first asked Thomas Watson to pick up. Everyone has voice. And with Asterisk, an open source PBX (phone answering system), you can build interactive systems that use voice phone calls in fun ways. You’re probably used to automated phone systems when you call your bank or an airline or something. “Press one for branch hours and locations. Press two for an account representative…” Asterisk does that. But it’s free (though you have to pay for VOIP (“voice over IP”) hosting — I use Junction Networks, which I recommend). And you can latch it right into Java or whatever for some really cool possibility. There are a ton of gameplay possibility that open when you go voice. I really recommend checking it out.

So, anyway. These are just a few thoughts of mine about mobile social gaming. As I said, Java Mobile (aka J2ME) is great for game development, as are many other platforms. But these that I’ve discussed above may be a bit more naturally social. And they might you some time developing a prototype or launching a simple game (if that’s what you’re up to).

Go nuts.


WriteCloud :: The Collaborative Writing Game

Saturday, August 11, 2007

So I have a new game experiment up and running. You should go check it out. The more people who play, the more interesting it’ll get.

It’s called WriteCloud and it’s a collaborative writing game.

Here are some details copied from the longer FAQ on the WriteCloud page:

What is WriteCloud?

WriteCloud is an experiment with useful gameplay. What is useful gameplay? It’s gameplay designed to, though the act of playing, leave some useful or interesting artifact. In WriteCloud, players play a social game about writing and letters, and the end result is an actual piece of text which will (hopefully) make some sense and be completely determined by the gameplay itself. Get it? Sort of?


Well, as noted above, I’m intrigued right now by gaming systems that produce useful or interesting results or artifacts. I’m coining the term useful gameplay, although I’m sure someone already has either used that term or coined something better. Some easy examples of this are Google Image Labeller and GalaxyZoo. These are games (or game-like), but the end result is a valuable piece of analysis.

So, yes. This “useful game” is about collectively writing text. Almost like an exquisite corpse or a predicitve text system like Dasher — but a bit more collaborative. Or like an extreme Wikipedia entry with no particular topic. Will something coherent come out of this, or will it always just be a kind of semi-random mess of boringness? I really don’t know. I hope that I get enough people rolling on it to at least get a few hundred characters — if that happens, I think some pretty cool trends will begin to emerge. If that happens, I also hope to be able to develop this idea in a few new directions…

Any comments you may have, please post below. I’d really, really love to hear what people think of this.



The Social Wii

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

So a friend wants to organize a Wii Bowling league.

Wait. Let me pull back for a second, first, and get something off of my chest. Wii. The Nintendo Wii. I defended the name of this thing from the start, appreciating the departure from the aggro face-blast names that these sorts of devices usually pick up (ie, “XBOX,” “Playstation,” “Revolution”). Wii! Cute. Lightweight. Fine. What’s not fine? But the Wii=wee-wee joke has got to end. “Awesome! I’ve got, like, four girls playing with my Wii!” That was funny about twice. I’m the sort of person who makes the same silly jokes over and over until people want to gag me — and it’s bothering me. What’s wrong with you people? (Thanks for letting me get that off of my chest. Feels good.)

Wii Sports comic by Benjamin RiversOkay. So a friends wants to organize a Wii Bowling league. I think it’s a great idea. I am hooked on Wii Bowling (personal best: 190) even though I’ve only been seriously playing for a week or so. We live in New York, so this would not be without precedent. I missed it, but the first Wiimbledon event took place a few weeks ago (Gothamist, Deadspin). And Wii parties have become de rigeur. Even at normal apartment parties people will ask to play with my Wii (groups of girls, even — giggle — ahem). And it works. I mean, it’s fun. And not absorbingly, anti-socially fun like when you hunker over your Playstation for a lengthy session of Grand Theft Auto or whatever. Four or five people — boys and girls — will sit in front of the screen and talk and laugh and make noise as someone makes their first Mii and plays a few games. Especially the games that involve swinging about the Wiimote.

There are, of course, many reasons for this: The games slant towards the quicker, more physical party game genre — and Wii Sports (which comes with it) is brilliant and taps into enough latent cultural knowledge (such as how to bowl) that pulling it out at a party pretty much guarantees that everyone will have a meaningful experience, even if it’s just to say later that they saw people playing tennis with a Wii. They’ll understand. Which I actually think the Wiimotes in general do, as well: Button combos are weird and arcane and watching someone mash buttons, boring. But with the Wii, the player is on stage, acting out, performing — and the effect in a group is not unlike that of charades. Makes for great photographs. And it’s really fun. In a group.

Social fun. This is what Nintendo has knowingly tapped into. Social hardware. But what’s novel is that nearly everyone else exploring that field has gone in the direction of allowing users to fill in little bits of information about themselves (manually or automatically) and then allowing them to browse back through their social network’s info in some filtered way. There are huge variations here, but that’s basically what’s going on. Even with lo-fi stabs at telepresence such as Twitter. But it all comes down to filling out forms and actually acting in quite anti-social ways. I’m not arguing that it’s bad, of course — I’m really into Facebook — but I would never crack open my Facebook profile at a party and expect to do anything other than drive people away.

But Nintendo, with a game console which doesn’t really have any of the classic social software tools (such as finding friends online or making new ones), has made something very similar. But very different. One reason I’m really into the Wii Bowling concept isn’t the Wii Bowling — that’s kind of an arbitrary game (fun, though). What I’m into is the social networking. With this device, I have a social entry-point with new people which can mix with a comfortable drinking-and-talking atmosphere. Watching someone make a Mii is watching someone in a rather personal expressive act — they’re defining how they think they look in the world — and I think it opens people up. Unlike Facebook or Twitter or Flickr or Whatevr the Wii sets up a social experience in which you actually form bonds rather than just express them (and don’t get me going about your relationship with “friends” you only know because you subscribe to their Twitter feed). “These are games intended for social groups of everyday people enticed by the experience, not for a rabid base of online strangers who just want to gank each other.” (- Angry Gamer)

It’s good. And interesting. And other stuff.

To wrap, some game recommendations.

Great party games:

Wii Sports. Almost goes without saying. Fortunately it’s bundled. Favorites? Bowling and baseball. Tennis is okay.

Wario Ware: Smooth Moves. Party crack. Very fast (<5 second games, all in row), very goofy. Makes great use of the Wiimote.

Rayman’s Raving Rabbids. A bit less immediately accessible than the two above, but the games are good and the atmosphere is satisfyingly dark. And most of the games involve you doing something cruel to a bunch of dumb, big-headed “rabbids.” Which is great if you’re into torturing little furry things. (And who isn’t?)


Elebits. Konami wanted their own Katamari Damacy-style game. And they kind of got it. You roam around your house (and later town) with a Ghostbusters-like proton pack zapping little electron-rich Elebit critters that help you power increasingly more energy-consumptive devices. The multiplayer mode is a bit of a pain, though.


Mario Party 8. Guh. It’s a damned board game. More like “bored game.” Heh. No, seriously. You roll dice and wander a board looking for coins. It’s horrible. About every five minutes or so you’ll get a quick game that’s fun, but not too fun. This game is designed for parents who hate their children.